If you have not heard the news, Leonard Nimoy died a few days ago (27 Feb 2015) in his home at the age of 83. He was best known for his portrayal of Mr. Spock in the Star Trek TV series and related films. According to his wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, his death was caused by end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Nimoy’s condition consisted of blockages in his lungs (hence, “obstructive pulmonary”) that he himself attributed to a smoking habit. In healthy lungs, oxygen-rich air flows through the lungs’ bronchial tubes into thousands of tiny tubes called bronchioles; it continues to smaller sacs called alveoli, which pass oxygen to capillaries filled with blood. Due to Nimoy’s smoking habit, his bronchioles became stiff, inflamed, and clogged with mucus. During his final year of life, his lungs could not provide his body with enough oxygen to survive.
Despite this condition late in Nimoy’s life, he did not die a smoker. In fact, he had quit the habit thirty years before. That’s right: quitting smoking added thirty years to his life. And this was not just Nimoy’s luck. Research published in the American Journal of Public Health confirms that quitting smoking at any age dramatically improved life expectancy (Taylor et al., 2002). In this study, men who quit at age 35 extended their life expectancy by almost nine years. Even quitting at age 65, ten years older than Nimoy when he quit, can add a few years to your life.
We derive our advice today from Nimoy’s own words. On January tenth, Nimoy tweeted, “Don't smoke. I did. Wish I never had. LLAP [Live Long and Prosper].” We repeat this wisdom: do not smoke. It will damage your lungs; it will prevent you from breathing; it will kill you. Not only does COPD shorten your life, but it makes those final years full of pain when they could be full of vitality. Nimoy enjoyed more than three decades of life after his decision to quit smoking. If you currently have a smoking habit, we advise that you follow Nimoy’s lead and quit now. At Mr. Happy, we don’t just want you to live long; we want you to prosper, too.
Taylor, D. H., Hasselblad, V., Henley, S. J., Thun, M. J., & Sloan, F. A. (2002). Benefits of Smoking Cessation for Longevity. American Journal of Public Health, 92(6), 990–996.